New York is better known as a city of Wall Street and the Great White Way, but once a year, it becomes a sports mecca as it hosts the US Open Tennis Championship at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, which 50 years ago hosted another international spectacular, the World's Fair.
The US Tennis Open has become like much of New York, a ritzy affair for the elite, but a week before this annual Grand Affair, the gates are flung open for everyone to enjoy.
This is something that locals know about, and eagerly await each year.
This is the qualifying Matches, when players fight for a coveted spot in the Open. If they make it through three rounds of the Qualifying tournament, they will get a spot; 16 out of 128 will advance. The matches are fabulous, and what is more, you can see the players really up close, you can wander around from match to match.
Even more amazing is the opportunity to watch Tennis Royalty warming up in the Louis Armstrong stadium and the Grandstand.
Here, too, you can see the greats from a perch you would never have during the actual tournament.
The qualifiers are held Tuesday through Saturday of the week before the Tennis Open and admission is free Tuesday through Friday; Saturday, when the finals are held, is Arthur Ashe Day and a fundraiser (tickets are $10).
This second day of the 2014 qualifiers is also Queens Day, with an added feel of a festival, with Youth Tennis activities, arts and crafts from the Queens Science Museum, and musical performances.
It is also fun to see the finishing touches - paint and polish, tents and stands, the concessions opening one by one, the media stations being set up.
You get to see the players up close and personal, and in casual settings and kids, especially, love to line the exits as their favorites leave the court to get autographs.
We watched as Monfils came up to Andy Murray as he sat in the chair after his very, very long practice (he went from the grandstand to the main stadium) chatted pleasantly.
After their warm ups - some like Monfils, actually do drills - they play a set. But while you can tell they want to win (it seems like the higher ranked player always wins), and their pride is at stake, they aren't going for broke because it doesn't really matter.
But then you go out to the courts where the make-or-break Qualifying matches are underway and here, the intensity and the stakes make for a completely different experience. The quality of the tennis is stunning and you think what makes the difference between these guys and "the greats."
On Thursday, I watched as Maria Sanchez of USA vanquished 20th-seeded Yulia Putintseva of Kazakstan, in a spectacular match, and then right after the high hopes for 16-year old Stefan Kozlov of USA (born in Macedonia and considered one of the most promising US junior players), after winning the first set, lost his second round contest to Bourne Coric of Crotia.
See details for the matches at usopen.org.
Karen Rubin, Eclectic Travel Examiner
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